Change the calendar of Hillel,
not the holy days of Leviticus 23

The writer has attended Church of God Sabbath services since 1965 and is the retired pastor of the Church of God of Central Arkansas. For other views of the feast-day calendar, see the articles by Pam Dewey, beginning on page 10, and Dave Havir, beginning on page 3.

By James Ussery

BIG SANDY, Texas--A major doctrine of the Worldwide Church of God, from which many present-day Sabbath-keeping church organizations have evolved, was that the annual holy days, or appointed times, listed in Leviticus 23, are to be celebrated in accordance with the traditional Jewish calendar.Important ancillary tenets of that doctrine were that the traditional Jewish calendar (TJC) is also "God's sacred calendar" and was directly inspired by God and given to Moses, and the rabbis are charged with maintaining it.Many of these church organizations continue to teach this, or a somewhat similar, doctrine.Over the past few years more people have questioned the accuracy and authority of the TJC. Many papers and articles have appeared, and many calendar discussions have appeared on Internet forums.Some defend and justify the TJC; some criticize and reject it.Proponents of both views generally agree that Christians are required to observe God's annual festivals, and most will agree that the method of determining when to observe these festivals during the time Christ was on earth was by the visual sighting of the new crescent moon by two or more witnesses.This, most will agree, was followed by an official proclamation by the high priest to designate the day on which the new-moon special offering was made and the next month was to begin.

Postponements rule

Most will also acknowledge the historical evidence that, after the destruction of the temple in the year A.D. 70 and the dispersion of the Jews, this method of establishing the beginning of the months changed.The rabbis developed a calculated system, made public by Hillel II in about 359, usually referred to as the "postponement rules." Hillel's system determined the beginning of the seventh month (Feast of Trumpets) and fixed it on a day so that the Day of Atonement, the 10th day of the seventh month, would not occur on the day before or after the weekly Sabbath.Next, a calculated number of days was subtracted to establish the beginning of the first month.In the Hillel system the actual appearance of the new moon is not considered, and it can differ from the calculated beginning of the month by a day or two.Other postponement rules are part of the TJC system, and they show by their very existence that the rabbis knew the correct time for God's festivals. Otherwise they would not know how to manipulate them for their convenience.I have come to believe that the TJC should be rejected, and I will try here to explain my reasons in the form of a rebuttal of some of the arguments commonly offered to justify its use.

God hides, man discovers?

  • Argument: No biblical or historical evidence exists that God revealed how to measure time. It was left for man to discover.

My comment: According to the New World Dictionary, the terms season, day and year are all defined as measures of time based on the interactive relationships between the earth, sun and moon.Genesis 1:14-18 refers to this relationship, and it is my understanding that this system of lunar-solar-earth cycles sets the standard from which all time is measured. This system was created and is maintained by Almighty God.

Not a calendar

  • Argument: We find insufficient evidence in the Bible to establish a full biblical calendar.

My comment: It depends what you mean by full biblical calendar. All calendars are man-made for the purpose of predicting dates and events.The Bible lists the appointed times that God's people are to observe and keep "a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations" in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29.God instructed Moses that Abib was to be the first month of the year for the Israelites, the same month during which He brought them out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:2; 13:4, 23:15; 34:18; Deuteronomy 16:1).

Schedule of events

The Scriptures are specific as to when the year begins and when are the days of the succeeding months in which God's festivals are to be celebrated. If the correct month is selected to begin the year, and the monthly lunar cycles are observed, the commanded festivals will occur at the time appointed.This is not a calendar but a schedule of events, the appointed times that God's people are to observe.

Determining the new moon

  • Argument: Nothing in the law defines the new moon: whether it is the conjunction or the sighting of the new crescent or whether it is the full moon.

My comment: The law does not define the new moon, but does that mean that we can ignore it?The law does not give details about how to honor our parents, but that does not relieve us from the responsibility to do so.God commands specific acts to be performed on the new moon, the beginning of the month. For example, Numbers 10:10 says to blow trumpets. 1 Chronicles 23:31 directs the offering of burnt sacrifices.That the "great lights" of Genesis 1:14-16 are for signs, and the historical evidence of the method used in New Testament times, makes me believe the month should begin with the sighting of the crescent. However, the technology available to us makes it possible to predict the conjunction to the second for those who believe that the conjunction initiates the beginning of the month.Each person must follow his own convictions. Either method is more accurate than the TJC.

Equinox in Scripture

  • Argument: There is no mention nor any acknowledgment of the vernal equinox in Scripture. It was the agricultural harvests, not the equinox, that determined the insertion of the 13th month, and there is no biblical instructions as to how this should be done.

My comment: The term vernal equinox is not in Scripture. However, Exodus 23:15-16 and 34:22 show that the holy days, which are harvest festivals, are to fall in their seasons.My King James Bible has a marginal reference to the term year's end in Exodus 34:22 that explains that it could be interpreted as "revolution of the year." The context convinces me that this refers to a turn of the season, or the autumnal equinox.It is my understanding that the agricultural growing season is properly primarily determined by the amount of sunlight received. Therefore the season is directly related to when the grains and fruits are ready for harvest and consequently when the festivals are to be observed.If the year begins with the new moon on or after the vernal equinox, the 13th month will be automatically added when required, and all the annual festivals will occur in their correct season.(Any system based even loosely on new moons must add a 13th month periodically to keep the months in their proper seasons.)

No need for the rabbis

  • Argument: You have no authority. Some human authority has to be involved. Why should anyone accept your authority rather than Hillel II's?

My comment: Hillel either inherited or assumed the authority of the Levitical priesthood, which was discontinued with the destruction of the temple. Jesus Christ now holds the office of our High Priest, and His written Word, the Bible, is our authority.Isaiah 28: 9-13 shows me that knowledge and understanding are gained "here a little and there a little, precept upon precept." When we consider all the Scriptures, we have the authority of God's Word. We do not need the authority of the rabbis, who do not even acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

Lack of controversy in Scripture

  • Argument: The Scriptures record no controversy over the calendar.

My comment: Why would there be a controversy? The postponements were not established until centuries after the writing of the Scriptures.

Switching around

  • Argument: Israel's system of worship centered on the tabernacle and the priesthood. The existing calendar was adjusted to accommodate this service.

My comment: This is a true statement. However, this is not what the TJC does. Since Hillel established the postponements, those of us who follow the TJC have switched this process around so that now we adjust the holy days to accommodate the calendar.

No authority for switching

  • Argument: To accommodate the requirements of Sabbath observance and divinely appointed religious ceremonies, the Jewish authorities adjusted the calendar by sensible postponements.

My comment: The holy days were postponed to fit the calendar. There is no scriptural authority for these adjustments, no matter how sensible they seem.

Matter of obedience

  • Argument: This is not a matter of salvation. If calendar matters were that important, instructions concerning the calendar would be as clear as those concerning the Sabbath.

My comment: Calendar matters may not be a salvation issue--such is God's prerogative--but the keeping of God's holy days at the appointed time is a matter of obedience to His Word, and the Scriptures have a lot to say about obedience.By the way, if the instructions for observing the Sabbath are clear, why do the vast majority of "Christians" observe Sunday?

Tradition ... Tradition!

  • Argument: The Church of God follows a calendar tradition of more than 60 years.

My comment: I believe the tradition goes back much farther than 60 years. I think it goes all the way back to the third or fourth century.To me a tradition remains a tradition no matter how old it is. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has somewhat to say about this subject in Matthew 15 and Mark 7.

Importance of the vernal equinox

I contend that when we consider all the Scriptures we find sufficient instructions to show when and how God's annual festivals are to be celebrated at the "appointed times."Beginning the year at the correct time in Abib, on the day of the new moon on or after the vernal equinox, is vitally important, since that determines the dates the spring festivals and Pentecost will occur.Likewise, by observing the monthly lunar cycles we can know the beginning of the seventh month, which determines the fall festivals.This also insures that the 13th month will be inserted at the proper time.

Fixed holy days

Calendars, by definition, are systems of graphs and charts of a sequence of days, weeks, months and years. All are secular or man-made for the purpose of predicting dates and events (including God's holy days), and all require adjustments from time to time to maintain seasonal consistency.At the time of creation God set the earth, sun, moon and stars in an orbital relationship that results in a sequence of cycles that divides time into days, months and years.When God delivered the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, He instructed Moses as to the appointed times. These are fixed within the celestial cycles on which the man-made calendars are founded, and they occur at their appointed times no matter which secular calendar is being used.The celestial cycles (including God's holy days) are fixed and maintained by Almighty God beyond the control of men. Calendars, on the other hand, are designed and maintained by men and require periodic adjustment.Therefore, when the calendar does not conform to the solar-lunar cycles, and God's annual festivals are scheduled for dates other than His appointed times, it is the calendar that must be adjusted and not God's festivals.

The Journal: News of the Churches of God is available from P.O. Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., and For more information write . To comment on this article or any other article or feature in The Journal or Connections, write . The preceding article or feature is from The Journal, February 25, 2002.

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